It’s got to be natural selection, some evolutionary quirk. There’s no other way to explain the hard-wired human craving for a crunchy, well-salted exterior on a hot piece of animal protein. Nothing embodies this like good old fried chicken, and yet almost nobody makes the stuff at home anymore.
Too many of us still suffer under the midcentury misconception that any kind of fat is bad for you, when the important question is really what kind of fat you’re eating. Fried chicken can easily be made in plant fats such as peanut or canola oil, both of which are reasonably healthy and relatively low in saturated fats. Just buy expeller-pressed oils, which haven’t been extracted with chemicals (most supermarkets carry these; look for something from Hain), and make sure not to overheat or reuse them too many times. Overheating oil causes it to break down and burn more easily, which produces trans fats, among other unhealthy by-products.
There’s also a widespread fear that you can’t properly deep-fry without a dedicated appliance, like a Waring Pro Deep Fryer. All you really need to make spectacular fried chicken right in your own kitchen is a big, deep pot (cast iron is best), a $10 deep-fry thermometer, a gallon jug of peanut oil, and a few tips from James Beard award winner John Currence, the chef-owner of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, and one of the all-time great deep-fry obsessives.
The keys to Currence’s approach lie in the pre-fry marinating of the chicken – a 12-hour soak in a mixture of buttermilk and hot sauce – and temperature control. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of following instructions, and buying twice the poultry you think you need: It’s that good.
• 2 tsp each of salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder
• 1 tsp paprika
• 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
• 8 medium-size chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry
• 4 cups buttermilk
• 1 cup Crystal hot sauce
• 8 cups peanut oil
• 4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tbsp each of salt, black pepper, dry dill
Combine spices and sprinkle liberally over chicken thighs. Place chicken in the fridge for 1 hour. Then whisk buttermilk and hot sauce together in another bowl. Pour mix over chicken and refrigerate overnight (or at least 3 hours).
Fill your big pot with peanut oil (remember, the oil expands slightly as it heats, and the chicken will displace a lot of the oil when it begins to fry). Heat oil to 375. Combine the flour with the salt/pepper/dill mix and set aside. Remove chicken from fridge and drain four of the 8 pieces on a cooling rack. Dredge the thighs in the flour, then knock off as much of it as possible. Gently place the thighs in the oil. The chicken will cause the temperature to drop, so adjust the burner to keep it close to 350. Turn the chicken every 2 minutes and brown evenly. After 8 minutes the meat should have begun to shrink from the bone. Remove 1 piece, place on a paper towel–covered plate, and stick it with a fork to the bone; the juices should run clear. If they don’t, cook for 2 or 3 more minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat.